As representatives of liberal democracies, I expect that the US Ambassador, Mr Perry Holloway, the UK High Commissioner, Mr Greg Quinn and Mrs Lilian Chatterjee, Canadian High Commissioner have an interest in defending Guyana’s fledgling democracy.
It is in this vein that I noted, with some concern, Mr. Quinn’s and Mr. Holloway’s brief statements on the Chairmanship of the Guyana Elections Commission. What I expected from the ABC countries, and particularly their representatives in Guyana, was an unequivocal statement repudiating the Government’s action. That statement should have reminded the President that unilateralism is anathema to genuine inclusionary democracy. The ABC envoys are all aware of the polarized state of Guyana’s polity, and the importance attached to their counsel.
I believe a brief reminder is necessary at this time.
In the run up to Guyana’s 2015 elections, the public observed, quite approvingly, that the American, British and Canadian diplomatic representatives were intensely involved in the elections process. The ABC Reps’ involvement provided a measure of confidence to Guyanese, both at home and abroad.
To this end, there were engagements with GECOM officials and other stakeholders, and they express-ed great confidence in GECOM’S preparation. No doubt, these public observations were based on objective and verifiable evidence that the Commission was equipped, willing and able to conduct the elections in a credibly impartial manner. A review of print and electronic media at that time speaks to their (or their predecessors’) respective involvement.
When there were allegations with respect to the results, and the existence of fake Statements of Polls, Mr. Bryan Hunt (then Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy), Dr. Nicole Giles (the then Canadian High Commissioner) and Mr. Quinn came out strongly in support of the declared results. It was a bitterly fought election where the difference in votes secured by the two sides was 4,506. The change in administration proceeded uneventfully, and without massive street protests as happened in the past. The elections petition is still languishing in court.
Cut to 2017 and we are in the midst of a Government inflected political and constitutional crisis. As the envoys are no doubt aware, a convention evolved over the past 25 years with respect to the selection of the Chairperson of GECOM. As a matter of fact, the US Carter Center was extensively involved in setting up the said Commission as Guyana transitioned into a democracy. Guyanese have come to look at GECOM to ensure that their votes count, and that elections do not hark back to the rigging days. Given the architecture of the Commission, the role of the Chairperson is extremely important.
As such, the President’s decision to unilaterally appoint the Chairper-son of the GECOM is viewed with suspicion. It has raised fears about tampering with the voters’ list and the general conduct of the elections. Further, the unilateral appointment has sent shockwaves across the population and the wider diaspora. Guyanese are looking at the ABC countries to continue their intense involvement, and to act as a bulwark against an erosion of their hard-fought fundamental democratic rights.
At this pivotal moment, the ABC countries cannot be seen to be ambivalent in their commitment to democratic ideals. I trust that history will not repeat itself.